coParenter Stories, coParenting, Separation & Divorce

Divorce or Stay? Kids Come First Either Way

It’s not divorce that affects children, it’s conflict. Conflict can be present in marriage and in divorce so it is important for children to always come first.

Rosalind Sedacca
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce and Parenting Coach, recognized as The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce.

Stay together for the kids? Generations of miserable parents followed that advice hoping their sacrifices would pay off for their children. Many still believe that’s the only option for parents stuck in a dead-end marriage. But it’s not divorce that affects children, it’s conflict. Conflict can be present in marriage and in divorce.

Based on my own personal experience, I have another perspective. Having been raised by parents that chose to stay together in a miserable marriage, I opt-in on the other side. For me, divorce is preferable to years of living in a home where parents fight, disrespect one another and children are surrounded by sadness and anger. That’s the world I grew up in and the scars are still with me today, many decades later. On the flip side sometimes parents who divorce end up communicating better as coParents and give their children a happy life.

I believe that staying in a marriage only for the kids is a choice that doesn’t touch upon the emotional and psychological pain children endure when their parents are a couple in name only. In that environment, there is no positive role model for children to see how marriage can and should be lived. In fact, it makes marriage appear to be something dreaded or to be avoided.

Happiness, harmony, cooperation, respect, and joy are all absent when parents are emotionally divorced while still living together. Children feel it, are confused by it and too often blame themselves for their parents’ unhappiness. Consequently, they grow up anxious and guilt-ridden, experiencing little peace in childhood. In many ways, the scars are much the same as for children who experience a poorly handled divorce.

For me, parents who find themselves in an ongoing unhappy marriage who consciously choose to create a child-centered divorce are providing a much better option and outcome for everyone in the family.

I remember my mother asking me one day whether she should divorce Dad. “No,” I cried. I wanted a Mom and a Dad together like all the other kids. Although my childhood was miserable and filled with insecurity, I feared what life would be like if my parents were divorced. Mom didn’t have the courage to do it anyway. Those were vastly different times, especially for women — and she continued in her unhappy marriage for decades longer. Back in the day divorce was taboo and not a lot of thought was given to coParenting but not being together.

Today, looking back, I feel that was an unfortunate mistake. Neither of my parents were bad people, they were both just totally mismatched in a bad marriage. Their communication skills were miserably lacking and they were wrapped up in winning every battle at all costs. The real cost, of course, was the well-being of their children. I believe that each of my parents would have been happier and more fulfilled had they parted ways and remained single or chosen another partner.

That’s why I chose the other route when my own marriage was failing. Because of my childhood experiences, however, I intuitively understood what not to do in divorce. I intentionally worked to create what I call a ‘Child-Centered Divorce’. My ex and I co-parented well, we shared the important parenting decisions and maintained a positive relationship for the decade to follow. Most gratifying for me was the satisfaction of having my now adult son acknowledge the merits of our coParenting philosophy and choices.

More than a decade after my divorce I wrote the book that shared my unique approach to breaking the divorce news to my son. As a grown adult, he is a strong supporter of my Child-Centered Divorce Network and wrote the forward to my digital guidebook, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love!

Fortunately, despite my painful childhood, I still believe in marriage and have since happily remarried myself. My advice to unhappily married parents can be summed up succinctly: if parents have the maturity and determination to get professional assistance before divorce, learn how to positively reconnect and renew their commitment to marriage, that is undeniably ideal. However, if children are being raised in a war zone or in the silence and apathy of a dead marriage, divorce may open the door to a healthier, happier future for parents and children alike.

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